Clinical placements

The moment I realised what it means to be a midwife

Caring for a premature baby on an elective placement in Cambodia showed student Indie McDowell the essence of being a midwife. 
Indie McDowell

Caring for a premature baby on an elective placement in Cambodia showed student Indie McDowell the essence of being a midwife

During my elective placement in Cambodia, I cared for a baby girl born at just 26 weeks.

Her parents were from one of the poorer provinces and couldnt afford to keep their daughter in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where she could have received life-saving treatment. The hospital couldnt afford to offer the treatment for free, so the heartbreaking decision was made to let her go.

The babys parents were too upset to stay, and the nurses were rushed off their feet caring for the other babies in the unit. But nobody should die alone, especially not a baby, and I knew I couldnt let that happen.

Not alone

...

Caring for a premature baby on an elective placement in Cambodia showed student Indie McDowell the essence of being a midwife


Indie McDowell with a baby girl born prematurely in Cambodia.

During my elective placement in Cambodia, I cared for a baby girl born at just 26 weeks. 

Her parents were from one of the poorer provinces and couldn’t afford to keep their daughter in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where she could have received life-saving treatment. The hospital couldn’t afford to offer the treatment for free, so the heartbreaking decision was made to let her go. 

The baby’s parents were too upset to stay, and the nurses were rushed off their feet caring for the other babies in the unit. But nobody should die alone, especially not a baby, and I knew I couldn’t let that happen. 

Not alone 

From the start of our training as nurses and midwives, we learn about the importance of compassionate care and human touch, so this little girl became my charge, my barnacle baby. I kept her with me, warm and skin to skin, and talked to her until she died. It was a peaceful death, and she wasn’t alone. 

I realised then that this is the essence of being a midwife: making sure our charges aren’t alone or afraid, that they are cared for and always have an advocate to fight their corner. 

That day, I became the midwife I’ve been training to be. The death of this baby girl was desperately unfair, but I was able to give her a peaceful death. For that baby in that moment, I was able to make a difference. 

One of the most important things I learned from this experience is to ensure that women, their partners and their babies are considered together as a family. The focus should be on unity and reassuring women that they aren’t alone, and if they have an unwell baby who needs NICU-based support, the baby isn’t alone either.

Intuition and theory

Another lesson I learned, and continue to learn from my amazing mentors, is the importance of having a sense of humour and being a ‘real’ human being. It is okay to drop a bed pan or break a glove when putting it on – this shows we are not just mechanically going through the motions. 

This experience taught me that I can be a midwife and that I can handle the difficult times. A career in healthcare comes with soaring highs and swooping lows, but that is part of what makes it so rewarding.

I also learned how to be an effective patient advocate, even, and perhaps especially, when women and their families aren’t aware they need one. 

The moment I knew exactly what to do to help this baby was when the theory perfectly aligned with what I instinctively felt. Intuition is a hugely important skill in nursing and midwifery, and I always ensure I pay it due heed. 


Indie McDowell graduated from the University of Staffordshire in August. She is currently working in Ethiopia, establishing a neonatal unit at Attat Hospital, Gurage Zone. To read more about her project, Making Little Changes, Saving Little Lives, and to help with fundraising click here

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